Yankees look to solve Cobb's changeup

The New York Yankees are on a roll, having won nine of their last 12 games, and are now just a half game back of the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. With a win tonight against the Rays (7:05 ET, ESPN2) and an Orioles loss, the Yankees would retake 1st place for the first time since April 24th. Here are the key storylines tonight:

The Rays offense has been slumping since losing Evan Longoria to injury. Tampa Bay has batted just .221 since May 1st, the second-worst average in the AL in that span. The pitching, however, has been excellent after a very slow start early in the year. After posting a 6.75 ERA over their first nine games of the season, the Rays staff has just a 2.85 ERA since.

Getting the nod for Tampa Bay will be Alex Cobb, who has relied heavily on his changeup so far this season. Cobb has thrown the highest percentage of changeups among all players with at least 200 pitches thrown this season, throwing the pitch over 40 percent of the time and at similar frequencies to both lefties and righties.

It’s been his most effective pitch as he’s located the ball down on over 63 percent of changeups, while getting batters to chase 50 percent of the time when he throws a changeup below the strike zone.

Highest Run Support Average This Season

Facing Cobb will be Ivan Nova, who is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his career versus the Rays. Nova has been an interesting case this year; his ERA is at a career-high 5.60, but at the same time, he's raised his K/9 rate to 8.3 after averaging just 5.4 in his first two seasons. He's also lowered his walk rate down to 2.9 BB/9, a career low.

The issue has been that Nova has allowed an inordinate number of hits on groundballs this season. The league averages a .216 BA on all groundballs, but hitters are batting .310 on groundballs against Nova.